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Minnesota Legislature

Preparing for the New School Year

Summer is nearly over, and parents are busy preparing for their kids to return to the structure and learning of the school year. On this week's Capitol Report program, Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker and Senate Education Chair Carla Nelson, R-Rochester, join Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to talk about the changes students and families will discover when the school doors open.

Scrutinizing Dept. of Human Services; Improving Access to Home Ownership

Over the past several months, the Minnesota Department of Human Services has been embroiled in addressing allegations of child care fraud, over-payments to Indian tribes for combating addiction and changes in leadership. In their role of administrative oversight, the Minnesota Senate initiated hearings to examine the makeup and management of the department, which has a $39 billion biennial budget and 6,700 employees. Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, joins Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke to discuss potential reorganization and redirection of the department. Plus, highlights from the first Senate oversight meeting.

The Senate has formed a select committee on home ownership affordability and availability to address the state’s emerging housing crisis. Chair of the select committee, Senator Rich Draheim, R-Madison Lake, joins Shannon to preview ways policymakers can improve access to home ownership.

Panel Begins Scrutiny of Department of Human Services

Legislative audit reports on fraud within the state's child care assistance program and overpayment to two state Indian tribes for the treatment of addiction, plus the resignations of top state human services leaders, sparked an investigative Senate hearing Tuesday, August 13. Chaired by Senator Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake, the committee sought testimony from current and former agency workers, Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock and members of the Indian community.

According to current employee Faye Bernstein of the Behavioral Health Division, managers at the department failed to adequately recognize her complaints of state contract compliance issues. Dr. Schiff, a former Medical Director, said professional medical input was not accepted. As to the Legislative Auditor's report on overpayment to Indian tribes for combatting addiction, Indian tribal leaders said they followed departmental guidance.

The Senate Health and Human Services Committee and the Senate Human Services Reform Committee will continue meeting in the coming months to review the department's organization. Under consideration, policymakers said, is the reorganization of the agency.

Jodi Harpstead to Lead Department of Human Services

Jodi Harpstead, President and CEO of Lutheran Social Service of Minnesota, will serve as the new Commissioner of Human Services, Governor Tim Walz announced Monday, August 12. Harpstead will replace Acting Commissioner Pam Wheelock, who has led the agency upon the resignation of Tony Lourey.

"But I have been leading an organization over the past eight years that run services in twenty-three of the areas contracted by the Department of Human Services," Harpstead said. In addition to leading Lutheran Social Service, she has worked in senior leadership at Medtronic. Harpstead said she is the first Human Services Commissioner to hold a Master of Business Administration degree.

Senate Department of Human Services Chair Michelle Benson released a statement following the appointment: "...The department is facing significant challenges and I can only hope that she will not accept the status quo. We expect to hear more from her during Senate confirmation hearings."

Featuring State Capitol Memorials and Tributes

On this week's program, Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke talks with Paul Mandell of the State Capitol Area Architectural and Planning Board about the planning, design and history of three prominent State Capitol memorials honoring veterans of the Korean conflict, the Vietnam War and military families. Plus, a conversation with Photographer Tom Olmscheid, whose images honor the workers who painstakingly restored the State Capitol to its original grandeur.

Opening Access to State Capitol Gardens

Members of the disability community and Governor Tim Walz held a ribbon cutting ceremony Thursday, August 8, to celebrate the completion of accessibility ramps from the State Capitol plaza to the lawn, gardens and memorials.

Improving access to the State Capitol and its grounds was a high priority during the buildings renovation planning and construction. The Capitol repair and restoration project lasted from 2013 through 2017 at an overall cost of $310 million dollars.